In these statements we find that as Christians we died, in God's sight, with Christ when we accepted him as Savior; but there is more to it than this. There is also very much the demand that in practice we are to die daily. That is the negative aspect that we mentioned in chapter 1 and that we will now pursue further.
As we said there, the Bible gives us a very sharp negative indeed—one that cannot be made an abstraction but that cuts into the hard stuff of normal life. We saw that the Word of God is definite that in all things, including hard things, we are to be contented, to say "Thank you" to God. Here is a negative, and it really is a negative; it is a negative of saying no toward the dominance of things and of self. We also see that the Bible tells us that we are to love men, not only in a romantic or an idealized sense, but enough not to envy. Here again it would be false not to point out that this is a meaningless word, a pure romantic word; it is a pure utopian word in the bad sense, unless we see that this also involves a very strong negative aspect. If we have this right attitude, it means that we are saying no in certain very definite areas to certain things, and saying no to ourselves.
Again we must say this is not just something to be taken romantically, to stir up some sort of an emotion within ourselves. It is a very strong negative word. We are to be willing to say no to ourselves, we are to be willing to say no to things, in order that the command to love God and men may have real meaning. Even in things that are lawful to me, things that do not break the Ten Commandments, I am not to seek my own, but I am to seek another man's good. Now anyone who is thinking along honestly must say at this particular point that this seems like a hard position that is presented to us in Scripture. When we stand in the circle of mankind's usual perspective of life, and honestly face these things in the Bible, we must say one of two things. Either we must romanticize, and claim that these statements are intended just to give a good feeling, and some day, way off, in the reign of Christ in the future, or in the eternal heaven, it will mean something in practice. Or, if we do not say this, but face in a real sense these words as the Bible gives them, we must feel that we are against a hard wall. You cannot listen to this type of verse, this negative thrust in the Word of God concerning the Christian life, in a comfortable way, unless you romanticize it. Surely this has always been so, since the fall of man. But surely also it is especially so in the things-mentality and the success-mentality of the twentieth century. We are surrounded by a world that says no to nothing. When we are surrounded with this sort of mentality, in which everything is judged by binges and by success, then suddenly to be told that in the Christian life there is to be this strong negative aspect of saying no to things and no to self, it must seem hard. And if it does not feel hard to us, we are not really letting it speak to us.
In our culture we are often told that we should not say no to our children. Indeed, in our society repression is often correlated with evil. We have a society that holds itself back from nothing, except perhaps to gain something more in a different area. Any concept of a real no is avoided as much as possible. We who are a bit older may feel that we can say this is the younger generation. Much of the younger generation surely is like this: they know nothing of saying no to themselves or anything else. But this is only half true, because the older ones are also like this. The present mature generation has produced this environment, an environment of things and of success. We have produced a mentality of abundance, wherein everything is to be judged on the basis of whether it leads to abundance. Everything else must give in to this. Absolutes of any kind, ethical principles—everything must give in to affluence and selfish personal peace.
Of course this environment of not saying no fits exactly into our individual natural disposition, because, since the fall of man, we do not want to deny ourselves. Actually we do everything we can, whether it is in a philosophic sense or a practical sense, to put ourselves at the center of the universe. This is where we naturally want to live. And this natural disposition fits in exactly with the environment that surrounds us in the twentieth century.
This was the very crux of the Fall. When Satan said to Eve, "You shall not surely die ... but you shall be like God," she wanted to be like God (Genesis 3:4-5). She did not want to say no to the fruit that was good to the eyes, even though God had told her to say no and had warned her of the consequences—and all the rest flowed from this. She put herself at the center of the universe; she wanted to be like God.
As I begin the Christian life I must face the fact with honesty. I must realize that there is, even for the Christian, an echoing equal wavelength within him with that which is all about him, where things and success are concerned. Consequently, it is false not to feel as if I were smashing against a strong wall when I consider this negative; it means I am fooling myself I am not being honest. If I stand in the normal perspective of fallen man-and especially the normal perspective of the twentieth century—it is very hard indeed. But if I shift my perspective, the whole thing changes, and that is what I want to try in this second chapter—to begin to shift our perspective.
With this in mind, consider Luke 9:20-23, 27-31, 35:
He said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God. And he straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing; saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me .... But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God. And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem .... And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.
“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny [or renounce] himself” (verse 23). That is the same thing we read in Corinthians—not seeking our own "things" even if we have rights to them.
Full text available in print only.